I outlined in my previous post how to frame your stories around some key attributes that all business schools are looking for. But the natural question to ask is, “how can I stand out when everyone is demonstrating the same attributes?” This is where the personal story comes in.
There are many ways to skin a cat, so my grandmother used to say, and you don’t want to skin the cat in your application in a trite way. Don’t describe your achievements with a list of attributes, but rather tell your story. When I referred to hooking in the admissions committee in the last post, this is exactly how you do that. Don’t tell them THAT you lead people, tell them HOW you lead people.
When talking about your leadership style, don’t describe it, tell them a story about how you handled a pressurized situation or about that time you inspired or impacted others to do something interesting or useful. Ask yourself if your anecdote reveals how you work on a team. After all, the underlying purpose of adcoms is to determine if you would make a good team mate for your colleagues. Don’t just explain a problem you had to solve, but show them how you breakdown a problem, which will reveal your true innovative side.
If you demonstrate that you have been creative in a situation, you won’t have to tell them you are a creative person. The story will reveal this, and this is the key.
The admissions committee is looking for passion – in the end they care much less about what it is you have achieved and much more about why you have achieved it. When you begin peeling back the layers, you will likely start to see the real reasons why you do what you do or why you have done something a certain way. This is exactly what Stanford spells out directly in their essay questions (Tell us what you REALLY want to do…and Tell us about what matters to you most and WHY?). In the end, this is essentially what all b-schools are asking for whether they spell it out as clearly or not.
Your stories should communicate to the adcoms not only that you have engaged with your community, but that you have a propensity towards doing this—it’s in your DNA. This is not something you can tell them and expect them to believe it. You have to show it. Do you have tenacity? Clarity of thought? Good, old fashioned common sense?
There are a thousand ways to demonstrate aptitude for business school, but your charge in the applications is to hone in on the experiences you’ve had which best demonstrate these things without force-feeding them a long list of descriptive terminology or banal phrases (don’t get me started on “thinking outside the box” which should be banned from any and all b-school essays!) When thinking like an adcom member, pay attention to what makes your eyes roll. It’s likely it will make their eyes roll too.
Stay tuned for Part III next week.
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Scott Bryant has over 25 years of professional post undergraduate experience in the entertainment industry as well as on Wall Street with Goldman Sachs. He served on the admissions committee at the Fuqua School of Business where he received his MBA and now works part time in retirement for a top tier business school. He has been consulting with Veritas Prep clients for the past six admissions seasons.